WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – President Donald Trump campaigned Monday for the state’s GOP governor, who is in a tense runoff election – but made the vote all about himself, too.
Speaking of Gov. Henry McMaster, Trump told an overflow rally crowd: “If a horrible thing happened and we weren’t lucky enough to have Henry win … they will say Donald Trump suffered a major, major defeat in the great state of South Carolina. It was a humiliating defeat for Donald Trump.”
“So please, get your asses out tomorrow and vote,” he said.
Trump did allow that his reputation wasn’t the only reason to back McMaster: “You’ve got to get out there and vote and, honestly, not for that reason.” And while Trump suggested he was joking, he did put his own credibility on the line by going all-in for McMaster.
The president also used the rally to revisit past battles by digging into his tough trade negotiations with U.S. allies, his ongoing fight with Democrats over immigration, his 2016 election and a long-running feud with television’s late-night talk-show hosts.
Trump arrived an hour late after storms forced Air Force One to circle South Carolina’s capital city.
“I have never taken a longer trip ever to South Carolina,” he joked later, before quickly imploring Republicans to back McMaster in Tuesday’s contest against Greenville businessman John Warren, a political newcomer.
In a steamy high school gymnasium where supporters fanned themselves with red “McMaster Governor” signs, Trump elicited boos at his mention of Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California.
Trump said earlier Monday on Twitter that Waters should “be careful” after she urged the public to make Trump administration officials feel unwelcome wherever they go in public. Waters spoke in response to Trump’s immigration policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border and after the owner of a Virginia restaurant asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave the establishment because she works for Trump.
Trump again accused Democrats of wanting open borders and portrayed himself as the nation’s defender.
“If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country,” he said. “Democrats want open borders and they don’t mind crime.”
Trump also lit into late-night comedians Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert, suggesting they lack talent.
“Johnny Carson was talented. This guy on CBS has no talent,” he said, referring to Colbert. Trump said that Kimmel fawned over him when he appeared on Kimmel’s show and that he recently had to tell Fallon to “be a man” and not apologize for messing up Trump’s hair during a 2016 appearance.
All three comics are Trump critics to varying degrees. Fallon recently told The Hollywood Reporter that he “made a mistake” when he mussed up Trump’s hair on the Sept. 15, 2016, episode and said he would do it differently. Trump tweeted at Fallon to stop “whimpering” about it, and Fallon tweeted back to say he was making a donation in Trump’s name to a nonprofit group that provides legal assistance to immigrant children, families and refugees in Texas.
The rally, in a state where Trump triumphed in a key Republican primary and easily defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, also brought chants of “Lock her up!” when he mentioned his vanquished rival, and “Build that wall!” when he delved into the immigration debate.
Hearing the chants, the president issued a correction: “It’s not ‘build that wall’ anymore. It’s ‘continue building that wall.” He pointed to a $1.6 billion down payment he secured last year, well short of the $25 billion he has requested from Congress.
The president insisted that he had been dealt a “bad hand” on a number of trade deals and recounted his recent dealings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He said Trudeau didn’t know “Air Force One has 22 televisions” so he watched as Trudeau criticized Trump for hitting Canada with tariffs.
McMaster, a former lieutenant governor, became the nation’s first statewide elected official to endorse Trump in January 2016. He became governor after Trump tapped then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to be his ambassador to the United Nations.
The winner of Tuesday’s runoff will face Democratic state Rep. James Smith in November. The Republican-leaning state hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since Jim Hodges in 1998.
Superville reported from Washington.